S.T.A.L.K.E.R Interview

3 Sep 2008  by   Paul Younger
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We all know S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and with the new game, Clear Sky, just around the corner from release, we managed to nab Oleg Yavorsky (Senior PR Manager GSC Game World)  to talk to us about the game, how it’s progressed and how it fits into the game’s overall story.  If you’ve not seen it, or are thinking of picking it up, why not read our review?

Clear Sky is set prior to the events of Shadow of Chernobyl (SOC). Why did you choose to make a prequel? Will Clear Sky fill in some of the gaps in Strelok’s story?

The plan to make a prequel appeared right before the Shadow of Chernobyl release. By that time we already knew which features would be good to implement into future projects and what should be done to make the game better. Also we realised that many questions in the game’s storyline were left open. The S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s game world is so profound that the player didn’t get the whole understanding of its laws and history. We decided to fill in those gaps and tell the players more about the Zone and it’s inhabitants and the best way for that to make a prequel.

How is The Zone in Clear Sky different from that in SOC? How do these differences affect gameplay?

Some aspects of the gameplay were changed very much. For example artifact search.  In Clear Sky some anomalies are completely invisible and the artifacts in them also.  You need to use some sort of detector to find a safe route inside the anomaly fields and got the artifact. So a two handed HUD was added when you carry a detector in one hand and a bolt or one-handed weapon in another. At this time negative powers of anomaly field affects you and you are a good target for enemy stalkers, so you will need good protective suits and equipment for that.

We added the possibility of upgrading weapons so you could improve the weapon you like in many characteristics like accuracy, distance, magazine capacity etc. You can also repair your weapon and protective suit.

One of the most interesting features of SOC was its A-life AI system. How has this evolved in Clear Sky?

I would like to say that in general AI was improved a lot. Both combat and idle modes were improved. But the most significant thing done is implementing living factions. They changed from just guys sitting at the campfire into a group of people with their own living camp, leader, trader, mechanic, ideology, interests, enemies and missions. It’s a completely new level of living game world. You will see an interaction in team combat, bypassing of dynamic objects, ability to throw grenades, adequate reaction to contusion, blinding, damage etc.

SOC reportedly had a long, troubled development period. What did you learn from that?

Owing to the experience of the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R. we see the right ways to develop the game brand further. Firstly, not all of the features were implemented to the limits of their potential, we believe the ideas vested in the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R. were just the beginning and are excited to bring each of those features to a new level. Secondly, we’ve got a big spur from the game‘s fans, we know all the likes and the dislikes about SoC and develop Clear Sky with this feedback in mind. Clear Sky is going to be a step forward in practically every aspect, and now done from the perspective of immense experience gained by the team through years of previous S.T.A.L.K.E.R. development.

Did making Clear Sky allow you to revisit some features you were unable to include in SOC?

Clear Sky will offer the player many more possibilities and freedom — unrestricted movement between locations, availability of a huge number of missions, various weapon and suit upgrades, real “stalker-like” searching for artifacts, life of proper faction bases — these are only some of gameplay changes, which do not even affect the storyline. There are also some things in store for the explorers. For instance, there are places in the locations that you would not find by merely following missions. Only explorers of The Zone will be able to find them. That said there are conditions that must necessarily be met. One of them is that completion of the storyline of Clear Sky has to coincide with the beginning of the original game. To achieve this there is a point of no return at the end of the game. After all, the storylines of both games must form a single story.
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The various S.T.A.L.K.E.R. factions are set to play a bigger role this time around. What benefits are there in joining a faction? Will the player be able to leave a faction or switch allegiances?

Clear Sky will have a more elaborate A-life simulation, there will be much great “freedom”. There will be a faction war in The Zone, a struggle for territory. The player will be able to choose a faction he likes best and lead it to victory, weakening the other factions in the process. The stronger your faction becomes, the better ammunition the fighters will have. At the same time, we made behavior of regular stalkers in the game more live-like. You will be able to speak with practically every stalker, trade with him, or get a quest. But if you have a hostile attitude towards a faction then technics won’t take flash cards you’re your information about improvements.  As a result you can`t rely on upgrades for you weapon.

It is hard to improve your damaged relationship with the faction but it is possible with help of such “peacemakers”. For a settled amount some characters can offer to go to bat for you. They forget your old sins and than you have to win their confidence and do the missions. When your  friendship becomes stronger you can then try to join the faction. If you be succeed in this you can tune your PDA to the clan`s frequency and receive messages form your friends and listen to the clan`s talking.

In the process of the game the protagonist can join Clear Sky, Duty, Freedom, bandits and neutrals.

How will the factions tie in with the main storyline?

The opposition of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. clans occurs in the background of the key story events. The new Zone has been seething with cataclysms and the main player’s task will be to reach The Zone centre and find a way to calm things down. As the player goes towards his goal (by accomplishing key story missions), he’ll be witnessing a lot of action happening around him: factions fight for the new territories, fields of artifacts, important information and so on. At this point the player is given a chance to join a faction of his choice and help it win in this opposition of clans.  

A criticism of SOC was that a lot of time was spent travelling between locations. How have you addressed this? Can we expect to see vehicles in Clear Sky?

Vehicles will still not be part of the game: the terrain of the Zone isn’t suitable for driving, while at the same time plenty of invisible deadly anomalies don’t help making the drive a fun experience – running into an anomaly at 40 miles/hour would make the player die without even understanding what happened. Still though, following the feedback of fans, we decided to add a new type of character – guides to the game. Guides will be taking the player (for an agreed monetary reward) to remote corners of the Zone instantly. That’ll facilitate the playthrough.  

What multiplayer additions have been made in Clear Sky? Will there be new game modes?

Indeed, we’re introducing Capture the Artifact mode, in mechanics similar to classic capture the flag type of game, however with the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. environment: radiation, anomalies, dynamic day & night shifts etc. Clear Sky will feature a batch of new multiplayer maps, and it’s still up to 32 players online or over LAN in a game.  

What visual enhancements has DX10 support allowed you to make? What kind of rig will players need to take advantage of the improvements?

When integrating the DX10 features in the game, we were primarily thinking of enhanced atmosphere and believability of the game world. As a result, we brought on board a handful of effects to ensure extra game immersion effect: volumetric light with sun shafts, physically correct volumetric fog, so as realistic rain effect with dynamic surface wetting effect and water streaming down surfaces feature. DX10 is very costly in terms of computer resources required, so this graphics module in Clear Sky is orientated on users with high-end machines. You can find the exact specs announced on www.stalker-game.com

Do you have any plans to bring the S.T.A.L.K.E.R franchise to consoles?  

We have some ideas, but nothing announced yet. At this point, we’re playing with the technology to see what things can work for us. Keep an eye on our news.

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